GALILEE, Israel - Walking in the footsteps of Jesus has taken on new meaning in Galilee, providing visitors with a more intimate experience in this part of Israel.
For centuries, Christians have been making spiritual journeys to Israel. Today, most visitors travel throughout the Holy Land in tour buses. But now there is a way to literally walk where Jesus walked.
The Jesus Trail is a four-day trek that offers a chance to slow down and absorb the sights and sounds of the Galilee where Jesus lived and ministered.
"Leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which was by the sea." (Matt. 4:13)
Israeli Maoz Inon and American David Landis, both experienced international hikers, are co-founders of the Jesus Trail. They say creating a Galilee Trail where Jesus was walked was just natural.
- Several years ago, Israeli entrepreneur Maoz Inon decided to open a guest house in the northern sector of Nazareth to promote tourism in the Galilee. Partnering with a local Arab family, he opened the Fauzi Azar Inn in an empty mansion the family owned in Nazareth's Old City. The Fauzi Azar Inn is now a base for those hiking the Jesus Trail. To learn more about how an Israeli Jewish entrepreneur is helping to build tourism in Nazareth, Israel's largest Arab city, click here.
"I think there is a great potential for hiking in the Galilee and because I think the most important, not citizen, but figure that came from the Galilee is Jesus," Inon told CBN News.
"It just seemed to make a lot of sense of how the Jesus Trail could bring a lot of new life to the Galilee, transform the communities and give people, Christians or just travelers and pilgrims, a way to really experience the life of Jesus in an authentic way that was very meaningful to them," said David Landis.
Trail Begins in Nazareth
Marked with orange and white stripes or an orange dot, the trail begins in Nazareth, now the largest Arab city in Israel. A guidebook, map or GPS coordinates help show the way.
The 36-mile trail winds across natural terrain and through towns like Cana, and is full of history and spectacular views.
"We think it's very similar to the way that Jesus would have walked. From the Bible, it talks about Jesus going from Nazareth to Capernaum," Landis said.
On the first day, hikers come to the ancient town of Zippori - visible today as an archaeological site at the Zippori National Park of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
While the city is not mentioned in the Bible, it would have been under construction at the time of Jesus. Some scholars speculate that Joseph and maybe even Jesus himself worked there as builders.
Canadian Jonathon Brubaker and his sister, Danielle, hiked the trail.
"It really brings to life how far he would have had to travel," Jonathon Brubaker said.
"People were so warm and welcoming, it was neat," his sister said.
The Brubakers camped along the trail, but guest houses and hotels are available.
Part of the trail is about a day and a half's journey from Jesus' hometown of Nazareth, on the way to an ancient Roman road. It's likely Jesus would have walked on that road on his way to the Sea of Galilee.
"I think it's interesting to think about how connected Jesus' geography was to the rest of the world during his time - just the influences he would have had, the different languages he would have heard," Landis said.
Ancient Trade Route
The Roman road was part of an ancient trade route connecting Egypt with Damascus and Mesopotamia. Today it's covered with weeds, but it's still located near a major travel and transportation junction in the Galilee.
"Think of how the Internet connects people today," Landis said. "That's how the Roman roads connected people during the time of Jesus," he said.
Nature is also part of the Bible story. The locusts John the Baptist ate were probably pods from a carob tree. Jesus cursed the fig tree when it had no fruit. And olive trees are biblical symbols of beauty and prosperity. Their fruit gave oil to anoint the priests and light the Temple menorah.
By the third day on the trail, hikers get their first glimpse of the Sea of Galilee. The volcanic mountain known as the Horns of Hattin is the site of an ancient battle that led to Islamic forces dominating the Holy Land and occupying Jerusalem.
"From here you can see most of the trail's route," Landis said. "You can see the area of Jesus' ministry along the Sea of Galilee here and you can see the end point of the trail, which is Capernaum," he said.
"You can sit under a tree in the shade and just look at where you've come and think about where you're going," Landis said.
Mount Arbel towers more than 1,000 feet above the Sea of Galilee. In Jesus' day, there was a Jewish city nearby. Travelers crossed through the valley below on their way from Nazareth to Capernum.
The climb down from Mt. Arbel on day four is steep, but not too dangerous. The oldest person to hike the Jesus Trail so far was 84 years old.
From here, hikers go to the traditional site of the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount.
The last stop is Capernum. Peter lived here and Jesus used the town as his base during his years of ministry in the Galilee.
"And Jesus went about all Galilee teaching in their synagogues, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people." (Matt. 4:23)
In the past year, an estimated 1,000 people have walked the Jesus Trail. Landis thinks the number could grow to 100,000 each year as more and more people come to Israel to walk where Jesus walked.
Filming at Zippori National Park and Mt. Arbel National Park courtesy of Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
Originally aired August 22, 2010.